Mercy OB/GYN Dr. Erika Nichelson Discusses Chemicals a Woman Should Avoid When Trying to Become Pregnant

April 24, 2015
Hoffman & Associates - OB-GYNs - Baltimore, MD

For women trying to conceive, there are certain things one should avoid, like drugs, alcohol, smoking. Excessive caffeine can be linked in some studies to recurrent miscarriage (generally no more than 2 cups, 6-8oz per day is okay).

Most cleaning products are actually safe, but you just want to use in a well-ventilated area and never mix ammonia and bleach (even when not pregnant!).  Oven cleaners, however, one should avoid all together as the fumes can be overwhelming, regardless of the space.  

I am often asked by mothers-to-be, “Can I paint the baby's room?" and the answer is yes, but with open windows!  Dyeing hair and getting nails done, again, is okay, but always in well-ventilated spaces.

Avoid pesticides, but not usually a problem for most unless you work on a farm.  

BPA is the up-and-coming concern:  canned foods can be lined with BPA, so eating fresh fruits and vegetables is the best course--but again wash/wash/wash to avoid those pesticides! 

BPA is a chemical found in plastics which can leach into food.  Researchers still not sure the effect on developing babies.   The United States Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program (NTP) is a good reference for BPA.  

The NTP report also found that there was "negligible concern" that exposure of pregnant women to BPA would result in fetal or neonatal mortality, birth defects, or reduced birth weight; "negligible concern" for reproductive effects in non-occupational exposed adults; and "minimal concern" for workers exposed to higher levels in occupational settings.

Health concerns have also been raised about another type of plastic: phthalates.  The potential effects of human exposure to these phthalates through medications and supplements are as yet unknown and warrant further investigation.

Dry cleaners often use a solvent perchlorothylene, which some studies link to increased miscarriage.  

No more changing the kitty liter as cat feces can contain the parasite toxoplasmosis gondii which can cause a serious blood infection.  

Toxicants may interfere with hormonal synthesis and secretion and thus lead to menstrual disorders, particularly disturbances in ovulation. In addition, some chemicals can mimic or disrupt the action of naturally occurring hormones and, as a consequence, lead to reproductive or developmental effects.   

Menstrual disorders have been reported among women in various occupations, including athletes, agricultural workers, lead exposed women, hairdressers, shift workers, and nurses handling antineoplastic drugs. Reduced fertility has been reported in dental assistants exposed to high levels of nitrous oxides, cleaners exposed to elevated levels of organic solvents, such as dry cleaning chemicals, and industrial workers exposed to drugs or chemicals during manufacture.

Although lead is a familiar toxin, new findings and controversies have arisen concerning dose-related effects on reproductive and developmental outcomes. Low levels of lead exposure have been associated with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion. 

Finally, if in doubt about any chemicals you may come in contact with when trying to conceive, consult your doctor.

--Dr. Erika Nichelson, D.O., Mercy Family Childbirth and Children’s Center


Dan Collins - Senior Director of Media Relations at Mercy Medical Center

Dan Collins, Senior Director of Media Relations

Email: Office: 410-332-9714 Cell: 410-375-7342

About Mercy

Founded in 1874, Mercy Medical Center is a university-affiliated medical facility named one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. by Thomson-Reuters with a national reputation for women’s health. Mercy is home to the nationally acclaimed Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine as well as the $400+ million, 20-story Mary Catherine Bunting Center. For more information visit Mercy online at, Facebook, Twitter or call 1-800-MD-MERCY.

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